Boating in France: Dole by Boat

Our home port, St Jean de Losne, France, is unusual in that there is easy access to several waterways: the Burgundy Canal, the Saone River, and the Canal du Rhône au Rhine.  Last week, having never been to the city of Dole, we decided to head for the Canal du Rhone au Rhine.

joan-and-neil-mallingTaking a trip by boat is somewhat different than taking a trip by car. With a car, you put the key in the ignition, turn it on, and go! Before ever getting to that point with a boat, one checks the fenders (those things that hang over the sides and look like they could be called “bumpers”); retrieves the binoculars, charts, VHF radio, boat hooks, etc.; locates one’s hat, sunglasses, water jug; makes sure all loose or unstable items are secured; checks the weather report; and on from there! It usually takes about 20 minutes, especially when we are out of practice at the beginning of the season.

canal-du-rhone-au-rhinWe left St Jean de Losne, heading up the Saone River towards the entrance to the Canal du Rhône au Rhine. This canal, linking the Rhine River to the Saone (which flows into the Rhone) was completed in 1802.  A lock activator system was put in a few years ago, but, otherwise, the canal is much as it was when it was completed.

The entry to the canal from the river is a 3 meter (10’) deep lock controlled by a lock keeper. After we rode the lock up, he signaled us to join him in the control house. There he presented us with a lock activator (similar to a large cell phone, but with 6 buttons) for our use on the subsequent locks, which do not have lock keepers. He explained its usage in English and also gave us written instructions in English.

doleThe canal winds its way through quiet forested areas where it was just us and the birdsong, and then past a couple of villages. Grey herons, regal birds standing about 3’ tall, feeding along the banks, flew off as we approached, then settled again behind us.  We stopped for an early picnic lunch at a small town, Abergement-la-Ronce that conveniently provided a place for an easy mooring. The day, starting off cool, had turned very warm and we welcomed the chance to cool off in the shade of the canal-side picnic shelter.

dole-1The lock-keeper at the initial lock had said that we could operate the locks through lunch hour if we wished, but that from 12:30-1:30 no assistance would be available if we had any problems with the locks. (This is France, and lunch hour is not a minor thing.)  Luckily, we decided to be cautious and waited to resume our cruising until 1:30. The lock activator had been a little “sticky” on a couple of locks, but on the seventh, it malfunctioned. At the first lock, we had taken down the telephone number of the canal authority for that stretch of waterway, so used our cell phone to call, and in about 30 minutes a lock-keeper arrived to manually activate the lock.

Just before Dole, we came out of a lock and found ourselves on the Doubs River. The next lock took us from the river back into the canal where the port was located. We had traveled 29 kilometers (18 miles) and passed through 9 locks, taking about 7 hours, not counting lunch. Yes, a leisurely way to travel.

notre-dame-doleThe site of the port is wonderful. The town of Dole goes up a hillside from the water, and the buildings of Old Town, many clustered around the church of Notre-Dame, are lovely. We found brightly flowered gardens, corner turrets, and wrought iron grills as we walked towards the commercial part of town. Later, using a map and historical walking tour itinerary that we picked up at the Dole Tourist Office, we discovered some of the hidden corners and arcaded inner courtyards in the many buildings from the 16th and 17th century, all in use today.

dole-delicaciesDole obviously has some wealth, as there are many stores displaying stylish clothing as well as some of the best “traiteurs” (prepared food stores) and “fromageries” (cheese stores) we’ve seen in France. There is also a large food market hall, and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings the Dole market spills into the square between the hall and the Notre Dame church and adjoining streets.

dole-canalThe second evening we decided to try one of the restaurants in the Old Town area near the port. We chose an Italian restaurant, “La Petite Venise,* and we both had lovely seafood pastas, dining on the outside patio on the side of another canal that years ago had been used by tanners. The following evening we cooked on board, but we were sorely tempted by the “Pizza Boat” that advertised a wood-fired oven, tied up across the canal from us.

pizza-boatThe third day we opted to go to Besconçon, about 35 minutes away by train. By boat it would have been 17 locks and 55 kilometers – probably a couple of days cruising each way. We wanted to see the citadel there and weren’t sure when we’d have time to follow this canal further by boat.

On the fourth day we cruised back to St Jean de Losne. Our return trip was cooler, less eventful, and took less time. It was good to be home!

La Petite Venise
33 rue Pasteur
39100 Dole.
Tel: 03 84 72 40 06.

For over eight years, Neil and Joan have been spending their summers cruising the canals and rivers of Western Europe aboard their now thirty-year-old Dutch motor-cruiser, the “Estate.”  This year they are sharing their experiences.

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  1. Betty says

    Love your website! We are family of 5 thinking of traveling to Europe. How do you think renting a boat and touring it by canal would work for a family this size. I like the idea of having a “base” for day trips. Would it be more economical than hotels?

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